You can read earlier parts of Ruby’s story by clicking on this link:
Ruby stayed near the oasis, using it as her starting point for additional excursions into the desert. It offered her the support she needed while she learned the skills she actually needed to live in the desert.
She realized that her wilderness skills weren’t as good as she thought they were. That understanding was jarring. She’d been in plenty of wilderness settings, and she’s thought she already knew what she needed and that they’d all work here.
Some definitely did not.
The following months were a time of retraining herself. She worked on getting better at foraging, hunting, and finding water. She adjusted when she slept and was active to reduce the time she spent being exposed to the harshest parts of the day. Gradually, she learned to appreciate the nature of the desert.
During one of her excursions, she found herself wandering off the course she thought she’d take. She decided it was her intuition drawing her. Before long, she came across a person. She had not seen a person since entering the desert. Ruby’s heart leapt.
“Hellooooo!” She called out.
“Hellooooo yourself!” A man replied.
She quickened her pace to meet this person. Who was this other brave soul out in the desert? What had they discovered? Maybe they knew the path.
As she neared the man, she got a strange feeling. The strange feeling turned into confusion. The man wore nothing but a loin cloth and had hundreds of feathers tied to his skin with some kind of string. He smiled at her through a skin of dried blood, which covered most of his face.
“Are you all right?” Ruby asked, concerned. “Do you need help?”
“Help? Help? HELP?!” He cackled gleefully. “My dear, I’ve done it!”
“Learned to fly!” He flapped his feathered arms victoriously.
Ruby took a step back.
“Everyone told me it couldn’t be done. But it has been done. It has!” The man straightened his posture. “Allow me to demonstrate.”
He walked to a small rock and stepped up on it. He stretched out his arms. Jumped forward. And landed flat on his face.
“Whoops. Didn’t account for the wind.”
The were was no wind.
He jumped again.
And fell again.
And jumped again.
And fell again.
Fresh blood streamed down his face over the dried blood.
“I don’t understand it.” The man stamped his feet and wrung his hands. “It was working just this morning.” He squinted at Ruby.
“What?” Ruby said, confused.
“You.” His voice carried an accusation.
“It’s you! You’re messing this up.”
“Git. Git out of here.” He waved his hands at her. “You’re holding me down!”
He moved towards her.
Ruby back-peddled. He pursued. Soon, she was running across the desert while this man shouted at her about holding him down.
“And don’t come back!” His voice echoed from the distance.
She kept running to put as much distance between herself and the feathered man. Breathing hard, she looked around and realized that she didn’t know where she was, and night had descended upon her.
“Great. Now where am I?”
“You are here,” a woman’s voice said.
She turned to see a pot over a small fire and the shadowy figure of a woman who stirred the contents of a pot.
“Have you seen a man covered in feathers anywhere around here?” Ruby inquired.
“I see you’ve met Gerald. Did he tell you he can fly?” she responded.
“Is his name, Gerald?”
The woman nodded. “Poor fool. Gonna break his crazy old neck.”
“Shouldn’t we do something to help him?”
The woman shrugged, kept stirring. “He won’t listen to any of us. And no, I haven’t seen him around here.” She scooped some of what she was stirring and tasted it. “Almost done.”
“Us? Are there others out here? I’ve hardly seen a soul.” Ruby sat down opposite to the pot and the woman.
The woman leaned back from the pot and fire. “Oh yes. There are always lots of souls wandering the desert. I hardly get a moment to myself.” She laughed. “Come child, have some dinner with me.”
Ruby realized how hungry she was. She quickly agreed.
“Did you bring this pot all the way out here. It looks heavy.”
“Oh it is!” The woman laughed again. “But it was necessary. It’s part of my healing, and it’s been worth it.”
“Oh. What are you healing if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Why would I mind? There are no secrets in the desert.” She leaned forward into the light.
Ruby looked more closely to see an elderly face covered in lesions and sores. She struggled to not react.
“Are you okay?”
“Better than okay. I’m healing right along, and the secret is right in this pot. The best kind of healing medicine there is. Here, have some?”
She scooped out some of the soup into a bowl and handed it to Ruby. Ruby looked down. Her hunger vanished. The woman had been boiling rocks in water.
“Don’t wait long. The flavor is best when it’s hot.” She slurped the water and started chewing on a rock. “Oh, where are my manners? I haven’t served the others.”
The woman didn’t reply, but went about filling bowls in front of a cow skull to her right, a sagebrush on her left and what appeared to be an empty nest. “Come everyone, don’t delay. Eat! Heal! Be renewed!”
“I don’t think I’m hungry anymore,” Ruby said, standing up.
“Don’t be impolite, dear. Everyone else is digging in, enjoying the medicine.”
Ruby saw the woman’s outstretched hand, also covered in lesions and sores. She also noticed how emaciated the woman was and realized the truth of what was happening.
“I’m sorry, but I must be on my way.”
“Aren’t you a rude one?” The woman snorted. “And don’t you get it yet? There’s nowhere to go in the desert!”
“Yes, but I’m sure I’ll find my way,” Ruby replied over her shoulder as she quickly left.
Ruby found herself even more confused and lost in the desert. She looked up at the moonless sky for guidance. She realized that she’d not spent enough time studying the stars to find her way. She was used to traveling during the day.
She sighed as she realized how much more she had to learn.
Along with that realization, her mind felt slippery somehow. She felt like she was losing a sense of internal direction that once seemed so clear. The longing that brought her to the desert had disappeared. She felt abandoned.
She stopped and held her head in her hands. “Left feels like it is right. Up feels like it is in. Down feels like it is out….Dammit, what is happening to my mind?”
She glanced up to see a shadow coming near. Afraid that it was Gerald still chasing her, she hid behind a bush. A man passed by. He either didn’t see her or took no interest in her.
She sighed in relief.
A while later, another man passed by. And then again. And again.
“What is going on here?” Ruby wondered. “I hardly met a soul for months, and now there is a parade marching by!”
Another man came near, and Ruby called out. “Excuse me.”
“Who is it?” the man asked.
“Another desert traveler.”
“Hello!” the man said cheerily. “Are you trying to find the path too?”
“Yes.” Ruby felt hope rise again, but the earlier events of the day muted her hope.
“Look no further. I have found it.”
Ruby came closer and looked at the ground. She saw a few foot prints that were all about the same size.
“Where does it go?”
He was a rather large man with an overgrown beard and wild hair, and his skin had the look of a person who’d spent a lot of time in the desert–weathered, browned, and heavily-lined. He laughed at this question, “To enlightenment!”
Ruby felt momentarily encouraged, but instead, she asked another question. “What does that mean?”
“What does it mean? What does it mean?! It means no more suffering. It means happiness and bliss all the time. Everything we’ve ever wanted is this way. Come. Let’s not delay. Please, allow me to lead you.” He bowed extravagantly before her.
Ruby felt a deep desire for direction amidst a profound sense of lostness. She almost gave in to it. But she had begun to understand how to listen more deeply. She could hear what he was really saying.
“No thank you. Maybe I’ll join one of the others who are following this path.”
“As you wish.” The large man bowed again and left.
Sure enough, another person soon came along.
“Hello desert traveler.” She called out. “Are you on the path?”
“Yes,” a familiar voice replied.
Ruby’s heart sank.
The large man came closer. “Well, wouldn’t you know it! There’s another woman who looks just like you a ways back.”
“Wouldn’t you know it….Good luck,” Ruby replied.
The man thanked her and continued on.
A while later, the large, bearded man re-appeared and again commented on her resembling two other women earlier on the path. Then later on, how she resembled three other, four other, and then five other women.
Finally, Ruby left the area still not knowing where she was going.
The Desert and Madness Allegory Interpretation
As this story picks up from where the last one ended (The Desert and Desire), Ruby is staying close to an oasis to support her. On the path to realizing spiritual freedom, an oasis can be a supportive situation, friendship, spiritual teacher, or someone or something that allows a person to engage with their attachments in a healthy way.
Ruby has been confronted by the reality that she doesn’t really understand the space she is in, i.e. the desert. The first couple of paragraphs refer to how many spiritual seekers may know a lot of spiritual tools and have a lot of spiritual ideas, but they don’t really understand how they apply to ego dissolution–which is what the desert is for. So the true spiritual person often changes how they use their practice and in many situations gives up tools and beliefs to be serious about this work.
If they don’t give up their spiritual misunderstandings, they can become extremely lost, which is what starts to happen to Ruby despite her best efforts to adjust.
Ruby meets 3 types of spiritual seekers who are very common spiritual egos to meet on this path. These types of spiritual egos are different than the ones that Ruby met on her journey to the desert (an earlier part of the story). The Waschbär isn’t dissolving the ego. He found what he thinks he wants and journeys no further. When things get serious for the yellow-bellied marmot, he leaves, never setting foot in the desert, e.g. never really dealing with letting go of attachments. But some people do manage to put themselves into that space of ego dissolving–the desert–and yet hang onto the wrong ideas.
First, she meets Gerald, the man trying to fly. Whom does he represent–the spiritual seeker who wants spiritual powers. In some Eastern traditions, spiritual powers are called the Siddhis. He is trying to fly or levitate or whatever. The reality is that he can’t do these things. He’s quite insane for thinking this is something to achieve and even more insane for thinking that he’d achieved it.
Ruby represents reality while Gerald and the others represent illusion. The consequence of reality and illusion meeting for Gerald is that he tries to attack reality. So he drives Ruby off because he’d much rather live in his delusion.
Next, Ruby meets the elderly woman on the healing journey. The healing journey is a very important one, but in the desert, that’s not really what’s happening. It’s not the right place for it. The elderly woman, however, has twisted a lot of spiritual truths, so the situation is even more confusing for Ruby (and maybe for you too). She says things like:
“You are here.”
“There are always lots of souls wandering the desert.”
“There’s nowhere to go in the desert.”
It’s true. You are only ever here now. Many people wander through moments of their life when the ego is dissolving (the desert). And there is nowhere to go on this path, which Ruby is struggling to realize.
But these statements aren’t being said for a space of realization. They’re just ideas the woman repeats to sound wise. Her lack of understanding and general madness is revealed when she talks to a cow skull and other inanimate objects while trying to eat boiled rocks. Additionally, she has hauled an item that doesn’t make sense to have in the desert–the large metal pot. This is another reference to people taking things (tools and spiritual beliefs) into this work that don’t belong here.
In the world of healing, there are lots and lots of fakes, but there are also lots and lots of people willing to believe the fake healers. The reality is that this woman is not only dying of her disease but also starvation.
Finally, Ruby meets the man who is going in circles. This is yet another very common spiritual person. They think they know the way when they have no idea. Additionally, he holds very common ideas about enlightenment/spiritual freedom/ascension/awakening/whatever-you-want-to-call-it fixing everything.
It’s enticing. Ruby is feeling so lost that a part of her wants to believe it. But she wisely doesn’t follow. By standing still, she sees the truth. Standing still is a metaphor for staying as awareness while the ego goes round and round in its loops.
Again, Ruby offers a counterpoint of reality to this other person, but the large man is so lost that he cannot allow himself realize that he’s seeing the same woman over and over again. This is so common. No matter how often many people are shown to be wrong about their spiritual beliefs and practices, they continue. That is madness.
At the same time, Ruby is going through moments where she is no longer sure of what is real or illusion. That is very much a part of the path of ego dissolution. A person goes through times of disorientation and re-orientation. It can make them feel crazy.
The big dividing line between insanity and re-orientation is that those who are insane end up clinging to their beliefs in the face of reality. They have to do everything they can to reassure themselves that they are right–even if it means driving off people who question their illusions. You see this again and again with the 3 people in this story. They have to ignore all the facts to the contrary that one is not able to fly; another is not healing; and the last is just going in circles.
Those who are realizing truth let go of beliefs and attachments. But during the transition, things feel really confusing. This is where Ruby is.
At the end of this story, Ruby is lost. She’s realized that she has more to learn about how to work in the space than she’d yet realized. That’s mentioned as a reference around learning to use the stars at night. We are ignorant to many of our ego attachments–they are in the dark. Thus, the dark places inside of us are where we must go. That’s what Ruby is going to have to learn–how to work in the dark–the unconscious and subconscious.
We’ll see what she does in the next story.